31 March 2014

New York Citizen-Soldiers Publish Memoirs, Fiction

PHOTO: U.S. Army Maj. Benjamin Tupper
Editor's note: In his role as an assistant Army Public Affairs officer for the New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division, Benjamin Tupper recently filed this round-up of books written by New York National Guard citizen-soldiers.

He himself is an author of two memoirs regarding his deployment to Afghanistan, "Greetings from Afghanistan" and "Dudes of War." Tupper's books have previously been reviewed on the Red Bull Rising blog here and here.


By Maj. Benjamin Tupper
42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division Public Affairs
New York Army National Guard

More than a dozen New York National Guard soldiers have turned their Iraq and Afghan war experiences into books: either writing about their own experiences or using those experiences as a basis for fiction.

From personal memoirs dealing with the hardships of war, to broad-based historical reviews documenting the achievements of a unit, readers have a wide range of choices should they choose books penned by New York citizen soldiers.

Capt. Matt Zeller’s book "Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan," chronicles his tour on an Embedded Training Team.

Zeller said he was motivated to write for both personal and professional reasons.

“I felt I had an obligation to share my story for the lessons learned. And, I found it therapeutic—it really helped me come to terms with everything I experienced and continue to experience” Zeller said.

Writing also had unintended and unexpected positive benefits, he said. As a result of his book, he was regularly invited to discuss Afghan policy and life as a soldier on a wide range of national television news outlets. He also was a guest lecturer at numerous Universities across the nation, including Harvard.

Retired Maj. John Ready, served in the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry "Empire" Brigade Combat Team and 42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division, before he went to Iraq as a Civil Affairs officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He chose a different subject focus from the many Iraq authors who penned works before him.

“Most books on the Iraq War seemed to have the common theme of: ‘We came, we saw, we kicked their butt!’ They were stories of real combat, but I hadn't seen any books detailing the humorous and ridiculous side of war,” Ready said.

His memoir, "Does My Suicide Vest Make Me Look Fat?" infuses the distinctive humor that soldiers develop when facing the stress of war, with a serious look at the challenges faced by Civil Affairs units and soldiers in Iraq.

Both Ready and Zeller strongly recommend that all service members, regardless of rank or duty position or writing experience, consider putting their thoughts and memories to paper.

Zeller advises fellow soldiers and airmen to “start writing and don't worry about whether or not it’s good enough … find a few trusted friends and editors because their perspective on your writing can prove invaluable.”

Maj. Sean Flynn, who now commands the historic 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry “Fighting 69th” Regiment, wrote a third person account titled "The Fighting 69th: From Ground Zero to Baghdad."

Flynn said that writing about and documenting the modern day chapter of the Fighting 69th was an honor in itself.

“There is significant gratification in having captured the modern history of the 69th Infantry and adding to the narrative of this storied Regiment, a unit that my own family has served with since the Civil War,” he said.

Flynn worked with an editorial board comprised of Iraq War veterans, and the final manuscript was approved by the leadership of the 69th Inf. Reg. and 42nd Inf. Div.

He offered a different perspective on writing.

“Memoirs are difficult. I encourage soldiers, especially those still serving, to consider using their experiences to write fictional accounts of this war," Flynn said.

“Fiction gives soldiers far more latitude to explore the deeper meaning of warfare and what it means to be a soldier without disrespecting the service of any soldier the writer may have served alongside of. For those seeking to write a non-fiction account like the Fighting 69th, I recommend using an editorial board process to ensure key events and key individuals are represented accurately and to seek approval from the chain of command at every juncture,” he said.

Sgt. 1st Class John Holmes, who served with the 42nd Inf. Div. in Iraq, is unique among the list of published authors, in that he has mastered two realms of writing: the traditional long book format, as well as a web-based comic format.

With a regular following of over 80,000 readers, his successful comic Power Point Ranger captures the humor of military culture.

“I have soldiers all over the world send me messages saying "Hey, your comic made me laugh when I was really feeling down." That's a great reward,” Holmes said.

Holmes is also the author of the science fiction series of books compiled in ""Irregular Scout Team One: Small Unit Combat in a Post Apocalypse World," which looks at military service after a zombie outbreak.

Holmes offered this advice to prospective writers: “Write. Write. Write. And then write some more. Get into the habit of writing, and then REWRITING what you wrote." Also, networking is extremely important, he said. "Finally," he added, "write for your own satisfaction.”

While most published New York National Guard Authors wrote as a supplemental activity to their regular civilian careers and jobs, some authors, such as Paul Rieckhoff, used their writing as a springboard to starting a new career.

Rieckhoff, who was a member of the New York Army National Guard when he wrote "Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier's Perspective," went on to found and direct the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (I.A.V.A.), which represents more than 300,000 members nationwide.

28 March 2014

Artist-Veterans Sought for Kansas City, Mo. Exhibit

A regional arts non-profit is seeking the work of visual artists in six Southern Plains states who are also military veterans. The pending June 2014 exhibition is an adaptation of a "Citizen Soldier Citizen" exhibition that originated at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, Ind.

Mid-America Arts Alliance is seeking artists working in 2-D formats such as drawing, painting, print-making, paper-making, and photography, who are geographically located or originating in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, or Texas. Deadline is April 7, 2014.

The exhibition focuses on the artists' experiences as members of the armed services. The original Indiana show was previously mentioned on the Red Bull Rising blog here.

Submission of photographs documenting an artist's work can be made via e-mail. Send to: tim@maaa.org

If sending digital discs or print photo submissions by postal mail, in advance please call 816.421.1388 ext. 224 or e-mail. Mail to:
Tim Brown
Mid-America Arts Alliance
2018 Baltimore Ave
Kansas City, MO 64108

26 March 2014

New 'Nouns of Assembly' for Soldiers, by Type

PHOTO: Wisconsin Dept. of Military Affairs
Last week, the Red Bull Rising blog reported on a list of suggested collective nouns for "Blue Falcons," a rude slang term for soldiers who take advantage of others. You can see that list here.

While we were at it, we thought we'd also offer a similar list below. This one regards particular groups of Army soldiers by type.

Other than the creative-writing flavor of the exercise, this idea shouldn't seem too foreign to veterans and service members. Particularly those who have served in "troops" of cavalry, or "batteries" of field artillery, rather than "companies"—which is what the rest of the Army calls units of that size.

Many of the following suggestions, of course, were borrowed from collective nouns used in describing the animal kingdom.

Here they are, in no particular order:
  • A "muttering" of staff
  • A "cluster" of cadets
  • A "mash" of Army doctors
  • A "mischief" of Army specialists
  • A "scrum" of sergeants
  • A "brace" of drill sergeants
  • A "hoard" (note the spelling) of supply sergeants
  • A "bellowing" of first sergeants
  • A "mess" or "mermite" of Army cooks
  • A "yawn" of PowerPoint briefers
  • A "6-pack" of commanders
  • A "behoovement" of sergeants major
  • A "ream" of admin soldiers
  • A "snoop" of intel analysts
  • A "coven" of intel officers
  • A "concern" of HUMINTers
  • A "binder" of training officers
  • A "gross" or a "pallet" of logisticians
  • A "wheel" or a "drove" of Army truckers
  • A "bolt" of Army mechanics
  • A "push" of Radio Telephone Operators (R.T.O.)
  • A "scurry" of TOC-roaches
  • A "mop" of chemical officers
  • A "breach" or a "seige" of Army engineers
  • A "turn" or a "hover" of aviators
  • A "stockade" of military police
  • A "brief" of Army attorneys
  • A "chorus," a "dazzle," or a "mute" of Public Affairs Officers/NCOs
  • A "charm" or a "congregation" of chaplains
  • A "dole" of military contractors

24 March 2014

'Scintilla' Journal Seeks New War Prose, Poetry

The editors of the on-line literary journal Scintilla are calling for submissions focused on the "literature of war." Launched in 2012, the twice-yearly publication is working toward its first-ever issue organized around a theme.

"Specifically, we are interested in fiction, poems, and essays from soldiers, their families, and those who've participated in or been affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," the editors write.

Deadline for submissions of original, unpublished work is April 11, 2014.

Publisher, editor, and blogger Tim Lepczyk founded Scintilla not only to publish new and emerging writers, but to work with writers in order to develop their skills. "One of our philosophies is to help writers grow in their craft," he told Red Bull Rising blog in a recent e-mail. "We try to give some formative feedback if we don't accept a submission, and try to work with a writer on a revision if we feel a piece is almost there. With our themed issues, we're hoping to provide editorial guidance and create issues that are more cohesive."

Lepczyk's desire to illuminate writing related to war stems an extended personal network of veterans and current service members. "I've a few friends and acquaintances who are veterans or active-duty military. Also, some of my friends have brothers serving in the armed forces," he says. "So in this regard, there was an awareness of stories and experiences out there, but I also felt like I wasn't hearing them. Last summer, I read Kevin Powers' 'The Yellow Birds' and I think that catalyzed things for me. I could use Scintilla so that more of these stories and poems could be told."

Word limit for submissions is 6,500 for short stories and essays. Poetry should be single-spaced and include no more than four poems. Make on-line submissions via Submittable here. For more guidelines, see the overall submissions page here.

The publication acquires exclusives electronic rights for 90 days, non-exclusive electronic rights to maintain a digital archive, and anthology rights to publish in e-book formats. Writers retain the right to publish the works elsewhere, although original publishing credit is requested.

A website for the Scintilla journal is here.

A Facebook page for the journal is here.

21 March 2014

2014 Dan Sesker Memorial Poker Run is May 25

Photos: Dan Sesker Memorial Poker Run
Organizers of the 2014 Dan Sesker Memorial Poker Run have launched a website and social media pages for the Sun., May 25 event, which takes place during Memorial Day weekend.

This will be the ninth year for the event, which commemorates Iowa Army National Guard Sgt. Dan Sesker, killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) on April 6, 2006 in the vicinity of Tikrit, Iraq. He was nine days short of his twenty-third birthday.

The event will start and finish in Ogden, Iowa. Sign-in will be 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the Ogden city park. Other details are pending.

In a poker run, registered participants are dealt random cards and each stop along a designated route. At the final stop of the day, the participant with the highest poker hand wins a pot of cash. Raffles, T-shirt sales, and other fund-raising efforts may also take place during the event.

James "Juice" Justice and Dan Sesker
Sesker was a member of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1-113th Cav.), both then and now part of the Iowa's 2nd Brigade, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. In his role as a citizen, he was a youth counselor and part-time police officer. He learned his fianceé was pregnant with their first child while he was deployed, and looked forward to his future role as a father.

Sesker was friends with many citizen-soldiers, including Staff Sgt. James "Juice" Justice, who was himself killed in action during a later brigade deployment to Afghanistan.

Proceeds for 2014 poker run event will go to:
  • Gage Sesker Trust Fund
  • Wreaths Across America
  • Purple Hearts Reunited
  • Ogden School District

19 March 2014

What Do You Call a Group of 'Blue Falcons'?

Doctrine Man!!
An off-handed remark last week on the Red Bull Rising blog generated some equally snarky results. In a status report on The Blue Falcon Review, an online journal of military fiction published by Military Experience & the Arts, we'd speculated about the apparent need for a creative collective term for more than one "Blue Falcon."

Given that the term is rather rude slang for a soldier who takes advantage of his or her buddies, calling such a group a "flock" of Blue Falcons seems a little ... less than appropriately colorful.

There are in the English language, after all, special collective nouns for specific types of animals. A "murder" of crows is one example. A "gaggle" of geese is another. The tradition of "nouns of Venery," according to Wikipedia (which is about as deep as we intend to research this sort of thing), stems from English and French hunting customs in the late Middle Ages.

As G.I. Joe used to say: "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle."

Here's an abridged list of possible collective nouns for Blue Falcons, as suggested by some of our usual "chatter" of Facebook friends and blog colleagues. Keep in mind, these are only the (relatively) family-friendly ones.
  • "Sinclair" of Blue Falcons [added March 21!]
  • A "cluster" of Blue Falcons [added March 19!]
  • A "congress" of Blue Falcons [added March 19!]
  • A "cast" of Blue Falcons
  • A "coup" of Blue Falcons
  • A "screw" of Blue Falcons
  • A "line-up" of Blue Falcons
  • A "cackle" of Blue Falcons
  • A "frack" of Blue Falcons
  • A "jerk" of Blue Falcons
  • A "plug" of Blue Falcons
  • A "murder" of Blue Falcons
  • A "malice" of Blue Falcons
  • An "avarice" of Blue Falcons
  • A "sphincter" of Blue Falcons
  • A "sh--bag" of Blue Falcons
  • A "Santorum" of Blue Falcons
The Blue Falcon Review, by the way, continues to gather submissions for its second volume of fiction written by military veterans and service members here. They're good people, whatever what you call them. The next volume is slated to be published in November.

Also, you can purchase Doctrine Man!! cartoon-character "Blue Falcon" stickers and coffee mugs at his "Lair of Mystery" store. Be a buddy, and buy some!

17 March 2014

New 'Line of Advance' Lit-Journal has Afghan Roots

Two former citizen-soldiers are now co-editors of Line of Advance, a non-profit literary e-journal of military writing. The recently launched quarterly publication is available for single-issue purchase or yearly subscriptions, and in either Kindle or ePub formats.

The 84-page premiere issue of Line of Advance is a mix of historical snippets of military poems and prose, paired with more contemporary examples. Co-editors Chris Lyke and Matt Marcus, along with co-founder Ryan Quinn, have created an flexible storytelling platform that is likely to avoid easy categorization in future issues.

Lyke and Marcus came up with the idea for a literary journal in 2009, while deployed to Eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province as part of the Illinois National Guard's 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment (1-178th Inf.). (Members of Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division and Oklahoma's 45th Infantry "Thunderbird" BCT might recognize the description of Combat Outpost Najil.)

"Matt and I are both writers and that’s why we were friends overseas," Lyke wrote at the SpouseBuzz blog in July 2013. "We’d share books and talk about writers and music when we spoke late at night on guard duty. [...] There were about fifty Americans and about the same number of Afghan army soldiers."

Lyke continues:
We occupied the outpost on the side of a mountain overlooking the intersection of three valleys. We patrolled and guarded and protected our little sector of Laghman Province. There were almost no creature comforts.

So when there was down time—precious little there was—we often took notes, sketches really, of what was happening. I was a squad leader and received all the mission briefs and locations and paperwork documenting what we were doing. All of that went into the footlocker on the way home. We knew, without talking about it, that we’d be writing about our time over there. We’d eventually start documenting it, creating some kind of art from the experience.
Depending on submissions, future issues may be organized around special themes, or include experiments in form and format.

"As for categories of work, we're open," Marcus says during a short e-mail interview with the Red Bull Rising blog. "We have several people helping us review submissions, and as a committee we all have individual preferences. I love short stories. Chris loves poetry. And on from there. We've even considered publishing a novel in a serialized format over a span of issues."

Above all else, however, the editors seek authentic voices. "We're looking for creative work that is authentic to the individual veteran's experience," Marcus says. "We ask that people not write or express what they think other people want to read, but write what they want. Something amazing happens when creative writing really conveys personal narrative."

Submissions guidelines are here. Upon acceptance, editors will ask for validation of military or veteran status prior to publication.

The cover of the first issue features a work of Chicago artist Bryan Butler, which depicts a modern combat helmet alongside an ancient Roman helm, each rising like black smoke from an inkpot below. According to the publication's submissions page, there may be a limited number of opportunities for visual artists and photographers in future issues.

A website for Line of Advance is here.

A Facebook for the publication is here.

14 March 2014

Social Media Helps Detail 'Red Bull' Uncle's WWII Death

A writer of a blog that tells the story of an uncle's service during World War II recently recounted how social media has helped clarify the circumstances of his uncle's non-combat death in 1944 Italy.

Writer Kurt Greenbaum uses a blog to post the letters of his late uncle Frank D. "Babe" Mauro, Mount Kisco, N.Y, who was a member of the U.S. 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. Mauro was a radio operator assigned to the Anti-Tank Company, 168th Infantry Regiment (168th Inf.).

Mauro, who died a just four days before V-E Day, always began his letters with "I am well, happy, and safe." Greenbaum's military history blog takes its name from the salutation.

Through e-mail conversations and Facebook, Greenbaum connected with the Conte family, whose ancestors once owned a fish market in Mount Kisco. Recently, one of the family recalled an off-hand remark made in a conversation years ago—a comment that added some detail to the circumstances of Babe's death. Previously, Greenbaum only knew that his uncle had been killed in a single-vehicle accident involving a canal. Greenbaum writes:
“What [a Conte relative] said was the war had just ended and Babe was very jubilant,” [John Conte] told me. “Somehow or other, he took a jeep out and they were taking something of a joy ride, celebrating. They lost control ...”

“It’s a tragic story when you think he survived everything else,” John said.
Based on his recollection of the relevant conversation, John Conte did not think that the accident involved alcohol.

Greenbaum's experience validates the idea that social media and blogging can create new opportunities for exploring the past. For Greenbaum, the snippet of information provides a little closure. "It may be the best information I’ll ever get on the subject," he writes. "And yes, I wanted to hear it."

For previous Red Bull Rising mentions of the "Well, Happy, and Safe" blog, click here and here.

12 March 2014

Mil-Fiction Writers Flock to the 'Blue Falcon Review'

The editors of The Blue Falcon Review report that a cohort of some 30 military veterans is currently participating in an on-line writing workshop, in preparation for its second volume of short fiction. In the meantime, other writer-veterans can also submit to the volume, which will be published in November 2014.

The Blue Falcon Review is one of four on-line publications published by the Kentucky-based non-profit organization Military Experience & the Arts.

The name of the journal is a cheeky reference to a rather rude military slang term, describing a service member who seeks to gain favor or advantage over his or her buddies. In their natural environments, of course, Blue Falcons would presumably never flock together. Still, perhaps those gathered in the workshop can come up with an appropriately creative collective name for them, as in a "murder" of crows?

The Blue Falcon Review's staff includes Managing Editor Daniel Buckman, and associate editors Jerad Alexander and Amira Pierce.

Writers can submit original and previously unpublished work here. The publication acquires first-time and anthology rights, and is distributed free on-line.

Published last November, the first volume of The Blue Falcon Review is available as a free download here

10 March 2014

On Mil-Blogs, Lessons-Learned, and Why We Write

I remember my parents exchanging through the mail these little 3-inch reel-to-reel audio tapes while my dad was flying into and around Vietnam. He was a navigator on a C-130 Hercules cargo plane during the war there. As a father now myself, I often wonder what it must have been like, to hear my tiny little voice for the first time that way.

When I got word in 2009 that I was soon going to deploy to Afghanistan, I decided that I would start a journal—in part, because I wanted to leave behind my own time capsule, my own snapshots, a version of my own set of audio tapes. I also wanted to be able to one day explain to my children—after they got older, of course—just what was so darned important that I had to leave them and their mom for a whole year of their young lives.

I published those journal entries on the Internet, as a military blog. I was a citizen-soldier, and my Army job involved technologies such as blogs and social media. My bosses in uniform kept asking for my opinions, and I needed some first-hand knowledge. I figured that there's nothing like learning by doing. Besides, it's always better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission, right?

Still, because Army attitudes and policies about bloggers were mixed at the time—indeed, that's why my bosses kept asking for well-grounded opinions—I started writing under a pseudonym. And, as a further experiment in organizational awareness, I didn't tell my bosses about the blog. It was only months later that some of my buddies figured it out, after they recognized a story in which they'd been involved.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was also creating a useful persona—one that didn't let politics, bad jokes, or rank get in the way of telling good stories. "Charlie Sherpa" wasn't out to get anyone in trouble, or to laugh at anyone's expense but his own. To my surprise, I also found that many of my readers were spouses and families. "My husband doesn't tell me about his day when he gets home from training," one reader wrote. "Thanks for helping explain what he may be going through."

After years of making physical, mental, spiritual, and legal preparations for Afghanistan—and just days before the unit was to leave—I got bumped off the deployment. I decided to stay on the figurative roller coaster, however. I would continue to write a journal, for my buddies, their spouses, and their kids. I followed the Iowa unit as a citizen-solider, and later as a civilian writer, to Mississippi and California and then to Afghanistan. I'm still writing today.

That shouldn't come as a surprise. You see, parallel to my 20 years with the National Guard, I was also a newspaper and magazine editor. I'm now a freelance writer. I even have a specialty, backed up by a graduate degree in architectural studies, in writing "how to" articles about architecture, home remodeling, technology, and neighborhood planning. That's the reason my former commander used to joke about me writing for "Better Hootches and Gardens."

In my military career, I was an Army communications guy. Not public affairs—that's something else. I was all about radios and computers. On weekend drills and active-duty deployments, I was a messenger, rather than media.

Late in my time with the military, however, I fell into a couple of longer-term but temporary active-duty gigs as a "lessons-learned integrator." I was, in effect, a "how-to" writer for Uncle Sam, part of the first state-level National Guard lessons-learned integration ("L2I") team.

My teammate was an Army-trained broadcast journalist. Our mission was to "document and disseminate lessons from deploying and deployed soldiers," in order to inject them back into our state's training efforts. In a fantastic display of laissez-faire leadership, our bosses even empowered us to invite ourselves to any meeting or training event we thought would be relevant.

We called the team "L2I Iowa." The Army Center for Lessons Learned ("CALL") at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, even adopted us as their own. We were an Army of Two.

Here's what I learned as an L2I guy. Nearly everyday, I apply these definitions. It's something of a personal philosophy:
  • A "lesson" is knowledge gained from experience.
  • A "lesson-learned" knowledge gained from experience that results in a change to organizational or individual behavior.
  • "Lessons-learned integration" is the practice of sharing with others that knowledge you've gained from experience. So they don't make the same mistakes you did. And so that we multiply our collective successes.
So, after 5 years of blogging, including a short stint as civilian media embedded with my old unit downrange in Eastern Afghanistan, here's some knowledge gained from experience, put down on paper and the Internet. The usual L2I caveats apply, of course: "Every story is a sample of 1. Your results may vary. Take what advice you need, leave the rest."


Lesson No. 1. Blogging is journalism.

A "blog" is an on-line journal. The words "journaling" and "journalism" share not only a root, but an objective: Document the facts and funnies of the day. Regardless of whether you lock it up in a diary under your bed, or publish it to the World Wide Web, or print it in a newspaper, all that matters is the standards to which you hold yourself as a writer. There are good reporters, and there are bad reporters. And you don't need to call yourself a "journalist" to be a good reporter.

Just remember Sherpatude No. 3: "Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires."


Lesson No. 2: Every deployment is a story. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

There's a quote attributed to John Paul Vann, who served as a both a military and civilian adviser during the Vietnam War: "We don't have twelve years' experience in Vietnam. We have one year's experience twelve times over." I think about that quote a lot, but I apply it to Afghanistan.

The Iowa National Guard deployments I helped document in 2007 were not the deployments of 2010. Those earlier deployments involved 16-soldier teams of "embedded advisers," who were spread out and partnered up with Afghan troops and police. That whole "advise and assist" theme coming out of Afghanistan today? The National Guard started doing that job in 2003.

By 2010, however, the Iowa National Guard was preparing to send 3,000 citizen-soldiers to Afghanistan as one unit. Army news releases noted it was "the largest deployment of Iowa citizen-soldiers since World War II."

Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) arrived in Afghanistan to relieve Vermont's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Oklahoma's 45th Infantry "Thunderbird" BCT arrived to replace the Red Bull. In each case, state and local media in those states told our respective deployment stories: Beginning, middle, and end. Then, the war moved on. Afghanistan was a moveable feast.

We haven't fought 13 years of war in Afghanistan. We've fought 13 different wars, a year at a time.

The news media hasn't covered 13 years of war in Afghanistan. We've covered the war one state at a time, one unit at a time.

"Beginning, middle, end."

"Wash, rinse, repeat."


3. Everybody has their own war.

In literature, the story goes, every narrative can be reduced to one of two prompts:
  • "A hero goes on a journey."
  • "A stranger comes to town."
I think a deployment is a combination of the two: "A hero goes on a journey" ... but "a stranger comes back." No, I'm not arguing that all veterans are somehow broken, or crazy, or a potential danger to themselves or others. Military experience, however, is like any major life experience. It changes people. Sometimes, that's a good thing. Sometimes, it leaves scars. And, if you want to write about war, you have to write about those changes.

Why did we go to war in Iraq, or in Afghanistan? In the absence of a grand strategic narrative from our national leaders—or reported context from our media—our veterans are left to answer the question of what their war was all about. A hero goes on a journey, a stranger comes to town, and he or she spends the rest of his days trying to figure what it all meant.

"Everybody has their own war" has become a personal mantra. It's a good reminder to be humble, and to first do no harm—whether in your writing, or your everyday actions, or even just listening to people on social media. Everyone's experiences downrange, after all, were different. Everyone left back at home had experiences, too. We need to listen to each other, regardless of age, gender, color, branch of service, or military job.

Because, while everybody has their own war, people shouldn't have to fight theirs alone.


4. Homecoming is a journey, not a destination.

My journey to Afghanistan may have had an end, but the story didn't stop there. I thought I would pack up my body armor and helmet, write my blog (and perhaps a book), and move out smartly. Instead, I've found myself repeatedly returning to veterans issues and military themes—sometimes, in ways that surprised me.

Some of my words, for example, have been published and republished in venues such as Doonesbury's "The Sandbox," and the Southeast Missouri State University Press "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" anthologies. A 2012 Military Experience and the Arts Symposium on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, was a lightning rod for meeting other veterans and military supporters engaging in creative work. I've also participated as a cast member in a theatrical production of The Telling Project, in which veterans and military family members from all eras shared their own stories of service and sacrifice.

Finally, during the annual Iowa Remembrance Run, I've been humbled to read aloud the names of those Iowans who have given their lives during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Four were "Red Bull" soldiers who deployed in 2010-2011.) Some day soon, I hope, we'll be able to stop adding names to that list.

Meanwhile, there are more and more literary publications focusing on military-themed writing, whether from veterans or others. The telling of our stories is just beginning.

"A lesson is knowledge, gained from experience." Share yours.

I once had a favorite journalism professor—his name was Bob Woodward, but not the one you're thinking of—mark in red in two words of praise in the margins of a term paper I'd written. I try to pass along his encouragement whenever I can, particularly when I'm working with other writers who are veterans or military family members:

"Keep writing!"

Or, like the Red Bull says: "Attack! Attack! Attack!"

07 March 2014

Come Run 'In My Boots' 5k April 19, Boone, Iowa

An "In My Boots" 5k run, walk, or ruck march will be sponsored by the athletics department of the Des Moines Area Community College, located in Boone, Iowa, Sat., April 19, 2014.

The event location will be McHose Park in Boone. Individual registration is $25 before April 7; same-day registration is $30; team registration is $80. Proceeds will go to the Wounded Warrior Project. At the event, food and clothing donations will also be collected for area homeless shelters.

According to press materials:
5K run/walk/ruck: The 5K will be a loop around McHose Park in Boone, Iowa. Individuals can also compete in the ruck-march that will cross through the woods and streams around the park. A limited number of ruck-sacks will be available on race day. If possible, bring your own. Please preload your ruck with non-perishable and clothing items to donate to a local shelter.

Ruck March: Current military members and veterans are eligible to participate in a team ruck-march competition. Each team will consist of 4 members carrying packs weighing at least 30 pounds. Weight limit will be waived if packs are filled with donations for local shelters. The first complete team to cross the finish line together will be awarded the first ever “In My Boots-Team Ruck-March” award and have bragging rights throughout the year.
For a PDF registration form, click here.

To donate on-line directly to the Wounded Warrior Project in the name of the "In My Boots" event, click here.

For more information about the event, contact:
  • DMACC Athletic Director Orv Salmon at: 515.433.5050; ojsalmon AT dmacc.edu
  • Journalism and law instructor Julie Roosa at: 515.433.5215; jkroosa AT dmacc.edu
The institution's faculty, staff, and students have a history of supporting military and veterans issues, including the 2012 theatrical production of "Telling: Des Moines." Approximately 650 DMACC students are military veterans and beneficiaries using G.I. Bill benefits.

Des Moines Area Community College, a public institution serving the educational and career training needs of Iowans, is committed to the lifelong success of its students. As Iowa’s largest two-year college, DMACC offers 150 programs, certificates and transfer degrees, annually serving more than 75,000 credit and noncredit students on six campuses and in five learning centers. Thanks to college-wide innovation, new programs and affordable tuition, DMACC has experienced record growth and today is the 15th fastest growing two-year college in America. For more information, click here.

05 March 2014

Writers' Event to Focus on 'War, Healing, and Culture'

The schedule for the 2014 Great Plains Writers' Conference, March 23-25, Brookings, S.D., has been published. The theme of this year's event, conducted since 1976 on the campus of South Dakota State University, is "Coming Home: War, Healing and American Culture." All events are free and open to the public except as noted.

A downloadable PDF of the schedule is available here.

The website for the event is here.

A Facebook page for the event is here.


SUNDAY, MARCH 23 at South Dakota Art Museum

6:00 p.m. Invitational reception for campus and community military personnel 
7:00 p.m. Opening remarks, Larry Zimmerman, South Dakota Secretary of Veterans Affairs 
7:30 p.m. Screening of documentary film, "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience" (2007)

MONDAY, MARCH 24 at Campanile Room and Hobo Day Gallery, Student Union 169

9:00 a.m. "Reading & Writing the American Indian Military Experience," Francis, Colin, and Brendan Whitebird 
10:00 a.m. "Home Fronts Then and Now," South Dakota State University instructor Amber Jensen and student Haley Wilson 
11:00 a.m. "Beyond PTSD: Stories of Reintegration," Brian Turner and Ron Capps 
1:00 p.m. "Inside/Out and Outside/In: Distilling the Personal in the Military Experience," David Abrams 
2:00 p.m. "On the State of Teaching Military Writing Today," Ron Capps  
3:00 p.m. "A Long Shadow: The Great War at 100," Patrick Hicks 
4:00 p.m. Oakwood literary journal presents 2014 prize-winners: Marcus Bear Eagle, Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer Award; and Christine Starr Davis, Great Plains Emerging Writer Prize
7:00 p.m. David Abrams and Patrick Hicks: A reading and conversation. Reception follows

TUESDAY, MARCH 25 at Campanile Room and Hobo Day Gallery, Student Union 169

9:00 a.m. "Film and Literature of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars," Jason McEntee and South Dakota State University graduate students 
10:00 a.m. "A Field Report: Teaching Creative Writing Online to Military Personnel," Rosalie Owens, American Military University 
11:00 a.m. "Finding and Creating Opportunities in Writing about Military Life," Randy Brown, military journalist 
1:00 p.m. "A Reading and Conversation on 'Flashes of War,'" Katey Schultz 
2:00 p.m. Planning Session and Discussion: "Creating a Military Writing Presence at South Dakota State University," Brig. Gen. Keith Corbett, Dean, College of General Studies; Col. Clarke Pleasants, Air Force ROTC; Lt. Col. Aaron Schultz, Army ROTC; South Dakota State University Coordinator of Veterans Affairs Brian Mahaffy; English faculty 
3:00 p.m. Celebration reading for the Jerome R. Norgren Poetry Contest and Paul Witherington Creative Writing Contest for South Dakota youth, reception follows
TUESDAY, MARCH 25 at Pioneer Room, Student Union 265
3:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m. "Writing the Military Experience: A Hands-on Writing Session," conference guests and faculty
TUESDAY, MARCH 25 at Fishback Studio Theater, Performing Arts Center
7:30 p.m. Brian Turner: A reading and conversation. Reception follows

03 March 2014

Literary Journal Launch: 'The Pass In Review' No. 1

Review: "The Pass In Review" Journal, Issue No. 1

In keeping with the newly launched literary journal's name—it's a pun on a command used in military drill and ceremony—The Pass In Review is a quick-step parade with plenty of flash, brass, ruffles and flourishes. While the content is not restricted to soldierly themes, the premiere issue features the poetry, fiction, photography, and artwork of more than 20 military veterans.

One of them, admittedly, is the writer of the Red Bull Rising blog. The issue includes, among other examples of his light military-themed verse, what may be the only poem ever written on the subject of working in a Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"). There is also one about making an on-line purchase of body armor. And one about life on a Forward Operating Base ("FOB") that is infused with Norse mythology.

Even without this potential bias, however, we would be excited by the prospects presented by this new collection of veterans' voices.

The issue is available electronically for $8.99 purchase via the Amazon Kindle Store. (Currently on discounted to $4.99!) For those who prefer ink-on-paper, the 82-page Pass in Review is also available as an 8x10-inch print-on-demand hardcopy via Amazon (around $18—currently discounted to $15) or via CreateSpace ($20). If you buy a print edition through Amazon, you get the option of purchasing the Kindle version for $1 more.

An annual Pass In Review anthology may also be in the works.

With their first effort, the journal's editors and designers have set their standards high. Check out this statement of purpose that's sure to stir both a writer's pen and blood:
The Pass In Review is a quarterly magazine for the arts that is focused on giving a strong, clear voice to the military veteran. This is a place for veterans of all backgrounds and nationalities to share their artistic visions and join the likes of Erich Maria Remarque, Joseph Heller, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut, Wilfred Owen, Otto Dix, John Phillip Sousa and Tim O'Brien before them.

It is a difficult endeavor to separate oneself from the cause he or she fights for. Those artists, those warrior poets, whose perceptions are forged through the fires of war are compelled to illustrate the funny, honorable, disgusting, beautiful and cowardly aspects of the human condition. Through their art, they are able to denounce the machinations of the press, the lies of politicians, and the ideal of the glorious soldier to expose the truth to share with future generations.
In an editor's note in the premiere issue, editor Alex Zapata thanks the hundreds of veterans who submitted their work, and anticipates more such successes:

"After a couple of months of prep work, we opened our inboxes to submissions and the result was incredible," he writes. "Stories, poems, paintings and photographs streamed in by veterans from all services. After going through all of the submissions, I realized how completely and utterly wrong I was. All that time, I had been complaining about there being no artists like the ones I listed before. The truth is, they are out there. They just haven’t been discovered yet. We at The Pass In Review hope to change that."

In issue No. 1, front-and-center of Zapata's artistic assault is the work of photographer Chase Steely, an active-duty U.S. Army soldier currently serving with 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (S.B.C.T.), 25th Infantry "Tropic Lightning" Division (2-25th SBCT), Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

Steely was deployed to Eastern Afghanistan as an infantryman. After peers and leaders responded favorably to his photographic habits, however, he picked up additional and informal duty as a shooter of a different sort.

In addition to The Pass In Review cover photo, the issue presents 20 of Steely's images and an eight-page Q&A interview. In that exchange, Steely explains:
Even my Sergeant Major, who didn’t even know who I was ... I just became "the picture guy." I mean, I got in trouble a couple of times for stuff I posted [online] and they told me I had to take some stuff down but they were pretty supportive. Most of the time I was an RTO [Radio Telephone Operator], so that gave me the opportunity to be there and not have to worry about pulling security as much and just get to take photos. 
Even when I became an AG [Assistant Gunner] later on, they would pull me off that duty and just tell me "Hey, walk around and take pictures."
Despite the fact that he mostly used a small point-and-shoot camera, his eye for composition, color, and pattern delivers a fine-art treatment of the Afghan environment. Through Steely's viewfinder, you will encounter a day-to-day Afghanistan that seems almost magical.

Currently awaiting medical procedures related to injuries sustained while in Aghanistan, Steely has another year or two on his enlistment. In the meantime, he has self-published a 60-page photo book via Blurb, available in either print  or e-book formats.

Short stories in The Pass In Review's inaugural issue include:
  • "Illusion" by Micah Reel
  • "Dinner With the Anarchists" by T. Mazzara
  • "A Sign of Things To Come" by Keith Ryan Kappel
  • "Stream R" by Gerald Nutini
  • "The Boatman" by Brad Drake
Poems include:
  • "Bullet Proof Me," "Café Sessrúmnir," "Combat Patch," and "Quiet as TOC-rats" by Randy Brown
  • "The Cotton-threaded Manacles of Legal Tender will Leave Ligature Marks on our Children’s Wrists" by Phillip Smith
  • "Bird Flu" by Anthony L. Haskins
  • "Walking Point" by Brett Perry
  • "Fireflies" by John M. Koelsch
  • "A Ball A Bat and A Beer" by Michael Fredson
Visual artworks—including photography, sculpture, and painting—include:
  • "Can’t Patch a Wounded Soul with a Bandaid" and "Tiffany" by Edward Santos
  • "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" by William Medina
  • "Albatross" by Claude Freaner
  • "All I Am" by Kimberly Deliz
  • "Tesla's Dream" and "Angel's Nest" by Apolinar Peralta
  • "Apples Cubed" by Hugo Gonzalez
The submissions window for the second issue of The Pass In Review opened Feb. 1, and continues until April 1. The theme of the next issue is "Humor in the Military." Editors seek previously unpublished fiction, poetry, visual art, and music. Submissions are made through the journal's website. Click here for more guidelines.


Disclaimer: As indicated earlier in this post, the writer of the Red Bull Rising blog has work appearing in the poetry section of The Pass In Review's issue No. 1.